In my previous article, I talked about nurturing the self as you would a child. This isn’t to say that you would infantilize yourself, but to actually treat yourself with the kindness and respect. In my work with adult survivors of trauma, many people, when introduced to this concept often explain that they were never or rarely treated with gentleness, patience, and affection. The need to learn the healing behaviors and beliefs that will keep them from traveling down a further destructive path of over-working, codependent relationships, addiction, isolation, and constant avoidance of painful feelings.
Abandoning, fighting, controlling, and cutting ourselves off from our true nature is rampant in our society and very common in the Bay Area. For many of us, our time is focused on activities that try to fill a void of being unlovable, unimportant, stupid, undesirable, and insecure. We act like the busy parent that gives the child all the toys he wants and enrolls him in many activities, but never comes home to him to spend long hours, patiently hearing his words or holding him in his fears. We are so afraid that if we stop and prioritize these hours we will get fired or be alone, or worse, we will have to sit with loving attention with our pain even if we can’t change it.
To continue the analogy, we then deprived our inner children that need to be loved, to played-with, to be asked curious questions, and be heard without the need to come to a goal, conclusion, or ending. What we do is tell our inner child to shut-up, go to school (work), dress right, behave, or take these medications because you are “distracting.” We try to quell the sadness of our inner child with a plate of scones or plunk her in front of the TV, and then we abandon her. These behaviors are often a recreation of how we were treated by parent-figures in childhood.
But Why? Because that is all we know. When our inner child speaks up, we say, “How dare you ask for more after all you have been given?! Look at everyone else! They don’t complain! They are FINE.” The truth is… they aren’t. They are just as good at you at pretending, so they don’t have to admit it to themselves either.
Ultimately, we don’t prioritize ourselves. We THINK we do, but we are actually abandoning ourselves over and over again, telling ourselves we are trying to build a life that we need, but the inner child waits patiently at home for the parent to return, with a growing sadness and emptiness.
Eventually that inner child submits or rebels. She acts out in anxiety or collapses in depression. Many people eventually have somatic symptoms: panic attacks, muscle tension, headaches, digestive issues, and cardio vascular problems. You inner child will make you hear him or her eventually!
The other end of this process of self-neglect and over-working is the all too familiar deadness and emptiness. Most people can distract themselves through their twenties, but after that, the body thankfully wears down and the spirit of the person wakes up. This is when people go into therapy or join some non-oppressive spiritual groups.
People often work with me at this point because they need to learn how to receive deeply-attuned caring in a safe and patient place. Though I am highly knowledgeable, the most important things I provide is caring, curiosity, and the desire to prioritize them for an hour. This holding is a refuge, sanctuary, or sense of “home” that people can rarely feel for themselves. It is so foreign that I must teach it and enliven it for them.
However, you do not need to get into therapy to start doing this for yourself. There are many loving refuges. Places I have found that are best are non-cult-like, meaning that the individual’s free will and perspective isn’t stifled but encouraged. Some places of this kind of refuge include:
Non-competitive/ non-mainstream yoga studios (they are rarer now)
Spiritual retreat centers like Spirit Rock
Psychological retreat centers like Eselan
Free dance movement groups
Group therapy (drama, dance, theater)
Adult education courses
Comedy or improve classes
You can also do this for yourself. You need to carve out quiet time in your week for your inner child to receive nurturing, care, and curiosity from your adult self. Whether at home or in places like these—this is the key to your healing and growth.